Saudi Arabia rejects US report on Khashoggi as Biden administration announces new measures

Riyadh and Washington emphasise the enduring nature of relations between them

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Defense Department personnel during a visit to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
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Saudi Arabia announced its rejection of the conclusions of a US intelligence report released on Friday about the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration also announced a series of measures that punish those implicated in the killing of Mr Khashoggi, including former deputy head of intelligence General Ahmad Hassan Mohammed Al Asiri.

The measures follow the release of a US intelligence report regarding Mr Khashoggi’s killing in 2018, which alleges Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was aware of the operation due to his control of the country's intelligence services. No evidence was given to back up the claim the Saudi Crown Prince may have authorised the killing.

A statement from the Saudi foreign ministry late on Friday rejected the allegations, and called them “incorrect” and “unacceptable.”

“The Kingdom's government categorically rejects the abusive and incorrect conclusions contained in the report about the Kingdom's leadership and [they] cannot be accepted in any way,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Ministry reiterates what was previously announced by the relevant authorities in the Kingdom, that this was an abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the Kingdom’s laws and values”, it added.

Statements from the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain followed on Saturday, in support of the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry statement.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its confidence and support for the Saudi judiciary rulings, which affirm the Kingdom's commitment to implementing the law in a transparent and impartial manner, and holding all those involved in this case accountable," read a statement from the UAE Ministry.

"The Ministry affirmed that the United Arab Emirates fully stands with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its efforts aimed at the stability and security of the region, and its main role in the axis of Arab moderation".

Following the report, the US treasury department imposed sanctions on the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force (RIF) known as the "Tiger Squad" and on former deputy head of Saudi General Intelligence Presidency General Asiri. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and include financial and travel restrictions on the former General and on RIF. Riyadh removed Mr Asiri from his position in October 2018 and tried a number of officials.

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken in parallel announced a new “Khashoggi Ban” after the release of the report, imposing visa and travel restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals that are believed to be “threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing”. The names of those targeted were not disclosed. The new measure entitled the “Khashoggi ban” allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals anywhere who “acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons”.

The release of the report follows a call between US President Joe Biden and Saudi King Salman on Thursday. “Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Friday that the goal of new measures related to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing “is not to rupture the [Saudi] relationship but to recalibrate it”, as the Saudi foreign ministry emphasised the enduring nature of the relationship despite rejecting the US intelligence report conclusions.

Riyadh also affirmed that the longstanding partnership between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, calling it “robust and enduring”.

“This partnership has thrived for nearly eight decades on the basis of mutual respect, and the institutions in both countries have worked diligently to deepen these ties in all aspects, through increased cooperation and consultations to bolster security and stability in the region and the world. We look forward to maintaining the enduring foundations that have shaped the framework of the resilient strategic partnership between the Kingdom and the United States,” the statement said.